(The announcement of the updated Ban/Restricted lists can be found here; if you click on this link you'll see the official explanation for the updates)
Earlier this morning Wizards of the Coast posted their December 20th Banned/Restricted List update to take effect January 1, 2012.
No formats were touched...except Modern.
NEW BANNINGS IN MODERN
Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire were both featured in Zoo builds.
Punishing Fire would be combined with Grove of the Burnwillows to either do a net of 1 damage to the opponent that's reuseable or to get a reuseable 2 damage hit to creatures. And with enough mana and Punishing Fires, that turns into 4, 6, or 8 to a creature in exchange for some life gain the opponent will end up losing because you're re-re-reusing your Punishing Fires.
Wild Nacatl has a lot in common with Kird Ape. Kird Ape was popular in the then-new Extended format. It could easily be a 2/3 creature on Turn 1 thanks to Taiga being legal in the format then. Because it was so efficient, it got banned. And in later years, everyone laughed that a potential 2/3 for 1 mana ever got banned in Extended.
Flashforward to Modern. Wild Nacatl has a little more going for it. We have the Modern equivalent of Dual Lands in the form of "shock lands". As well, Wild Nacatl has a friend Kird Ape never had :"Fetch lands." Yes, on Turn 1 Wild Nacatl could easily be a 2/2 for 1 mana, then next turn a 3/3 for 1 mana with little chance for an opponent to answer until a few turns later. Here's all it takes:
Turn 1: Arid Mesa, "crack" the Fetchland to get a Temple Garden/Stomping Ground, cast Wild Nacatl. Now that you control a Plains/Mountain (whichever of those lands you got), you have a 1-mana 2/2.
Turn 2: If your opponent didn't have a Lightning Bolt, you play any of the other Plains and/or Mountain "shocklands" and Wild Nacatl becomes a 3/3. Add Noble Hierarch to the mix and you have a 4/4 when attacking on Turn 2.
And it seems this kind of play happened more often than not. With fetchlands and Exalted triggers, it's easy to make Nacatl much more powerful than it was for Kird Ape to ever be and much faster too.
For these reasons, the DCI felt that the variety of the format was being threatened. Zoo decks are too prominent, in part because of Wild Nacatl and in part because of the Grove of the Burnwillows/Punishing Fire combo. As well, the Grove/Fire combo was being used as a win condition in other decks that could afford to run the combo.
And because deck variety was being threatened, the DCI felt the need to ban these 2 cards.
On the plus side...this is the fewest bannings that have happened to Modern since the format sprang up earlier this year. Last update had 6 cards banned, and the initial announcement (on August 12th) had a whopping 21 cards on it. With 29 cards on the list, I have a sneaky suspicion we'll see at least a couple cards come off the list next update (scheduled for March 20th to be effective April 1, 2012).
What do you all think? Are these bans the correct move? Should something have been unbanned? What about in other formats? Feel free to leave your comments here and share and discuss! :)